Think twice before allowing mountain bikes

Opponents argue mountain bikes threaten wild lands.
Opponents argue mountain bikes threaten wild lands.

I want to respond to the viewpoints on whether mountain bikes should be permitted in Wilderness Areas [It’s Debatable, March/April 2014]. I believe mountain bikes are the latest threat to our wild lands, and I am strongly opposed to permitting them in Wilderness Areas.

However, I would disagree with Bill Ingersoll, who sees no reason why lands acquired by the state that are “crisscrossed by gravel roads” shouldn’t permit mountain bikes as long as the land isn’t classified Wilderness.

Mountain bikes give people a huge mechanical advantage. They shrink wild lands. They can transport more people farther, creating intrusions in even the most remote areas. In many cases, the relative difficulty of accessing large wild lands provides a safe haven for sensitive wildlife. If mountain bikes (and the new fat-tire bikes that go over snow) were permitted in wild lands, their use by trappers and hunters would mean there would be no refuge for wildlife.

Mountain bikes can and do transport invasive weeds, and they move them farther than a hiker can, ensuring more rapid spread of exotics. The speed of mountain bikes disrupts and alarms walkers.

Given that nearly all of the remaining large parcels of private land that the state may acquire in the future are currently under timber-company ownership, automatically permitting mountain bikes on newly acquired state lands with roads would preclude any substantial additions to state Wilderness lands. Decisions about whether to designate lands as Wilderness should be made based first on the potential for restoring wild lands. Only after such deliberation, do we determine which lands might be appropriate for bike use.

It’s time to recognize that mountain bikes are just as inappropriate in wild lands as other mechanical vehicles and allowing mountain-bike use to determine future suitability of lands for Wilderness designation would be a mistake.

George Wuerthner, Bend, OR

George Wuerthner has published 37 books, including Thrillcraft—the Impact of Motorized Recreation.

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